Dana White’s Leadership Style: How MMA Made Billions

If you follow mixed martial arts (MMA), you know the name Dana White. The UFC president has a big personality and loves to talk openly to interviewers, never shying away from his honest opinions.

So, what has made White such a successful leader? And how did he take a little-known brand on the verge of bankruptcy to be worth billions?

What Is Dana White Known For?

Dana White is an American businessman best known for his role as the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

In the early 2000s, White learned that Bob Meyrowitz, who owned UFC through its parent company Semaphore Entertainment Group, was interested in selling the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion company.

White didn’t have enough money to buy the company, but he knew some casino owners who might be interested in making a deal. By the beginning of 2001, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta purchased UFC for $2 million. They made UFC part of their company, Zuffa.

The new owners established Dana White as UFC’s president. White immediately found that he had a challenging job ahead of him because the previous owners had stripped the company of nearly all assets. UFC didn’t even own the website domain UFC.com anymore, having sold it to a computer supply company.

White understood that he needed to rebuild the brand before he could make it successful. He got to work repurchasing lost assets and talking to other entities in the MMA industry.

In less than 15 years, White took UFC from a company on the edge of bankruptcy to a brand bringing in more than $600 million per year. That success made UFC attractive to larger businesses. In 2016, a group of investors purchased UFC for $4.025 billion. In 15 years, White had taken a $2 million property and turned it into a $4 billion entertainment empire.

The new owners, likely recognizing the important role White had played in making UFC successful, kept him as the president.

At the time of the sale, White owned 9% of UFC, valuing his ownership stake at $360 million.

Since then, White has expanded his career as a promoter, producer, and businessman. He created and hosted the six-season UFC series Dana White’s Contender Series. (The series also had a special, unnumbered 2018 season that took place in Brazil.)

White has also overseen deals between UFC and ESPN and, via its parent company, a merger between UFC and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), one of UFC’s biggest investors.

What Type of Fighter Was Dana White?

Dana White is a trained boxer and jiu-jitsu fighter. He has not, however, participated in any professional MMA events. At one time, he considered becoming a professional boxer. He was even training with Peter Welch, a Golden Gloves champion.

Dana White chose to stay out of the ring because he didn’t want to develop one of the neurodegenerative disorders common among professional fighters.

Instead of becoming a professional boxer, he started training other boxers. He and Welch also opened a boxing gym where they could train everyone from amateur to professional fighters. Despite these close connections, White never entered an amateur or professional fight. Instead, he pivoted to the business side of sports.

How Did Dana White Become Successful?

Dana White became successful by taking a lot of big risks and betting on himself. According to White, he had a run-in with mobster Whitey Bulger while living in Boston and operating his boxing gym with Welch.

Bulger, who ran the Winter Hill Gang outside of Boston, would later become one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. He was even on a list of wanted criminals that included Osama bin Laden. In other words, White had serious reasons to worry.

White fled Boston to avoid his debt and likely retaliation from the organized crime boss. Within a day of receiving a threat, he flew to Las Vegas to rebuild his life. It was this move that brought him into contact with the Fertitta brothers, who he met while working at a local gym as a boxercise and jiu-jitsu trainer. White also started managing fighters, including Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell.

When he learned about the opportunity to purchase UFC, he helped arrange the deal between Meyrowitz and the Fertittas. He continued to prove himself by investing in and growing the UFC brand.

What Is Dana White’s Salary?

According to several sources, Dana White earns $20 million per year as president of UFC.

Somewhat surprisingly, his salary is 10 times the amount that the Fertittas spent buying the company. That shows how significant White’s leadership has been to the company’s success.

Dana White’s Leadership Style

Dana White doesn’t easily fit into a traditional leadership style. Some people have called him an “authentic” leader because he stays true to himself and his passions. Others have called him a “bully” because he doggedly pursues his interests and will cast aside anyone who tries to get in his way.

Of the six most common leadership styles (transformational, delegative, authoritative, transactional, participative, and servant), most of White’s characteristics match the authoritative leadership style.

Some people would not like working for someone like White because he expects those working for him to follow his orders precisely without complaints. Considering that White gets spectacular results, it’s hard to argue that his approach doesn’t work well.

Perhaps White’s demanding leadership style works well because of his focus on MMA entertainment. A lot of people working in this industry have aggressive personalities. White needs to make sure they understand the importance of following his instructions. After all, he’s the person who turned UFC from a $2 million brand that was going out of business into a $10 billion company on the rise.

It’s also important to note that White’s personality plays a role in how the public perceives UFC. People seem to like having a trained fighter at the helm of the company. At times, his over-the-top personality can seem more entertaining and provocative than those of the fighters he works with.

Dana White’s Net Worth

Dana White has several sources of income in addition to his salary as president of UFC.

He is a successful gambler who says he frequently makes wagers as much as $75,000 per hand when playing poker.

He may even make money on other entertainment networks. He even appeared on an episode of Pawn Stars in 2018. During the episode, he spent about $60,000 on Japanese swords.

So, what is his net worth? While that’s a difficult number to determine, many people who follow his career estimate that he has a personal net worth of over $1 billion. The calculation stems from the $360 million when the UFC sold for $4 billion and its current valuation which is 3x that following its merger with WWE.

Who Is The Richest Fighter In the UFC?

At least 20 UFC fighters have $9 million or more. However, Conor McGregor stands out as by far the wealthiest MMA fighter with ties to the company.

McGregor is reportedly worth about $120 million. A good chunk of that comes from growing his Proper Twelve whiskey brand, as well as from numerous company sponsorships.

The second-richest fighter in the UFC, Rorion Gracie, has a net worth of about $50 million.

Other high earners in the UFC include:

  • Georges St. Pierre – $30 million
  • Khabib Nurmagomedov – $30 million
  • Brock Lesnar – $28 million
  • B.J. Penn – $22 million
  • Tito Ortiz – $20 million

UFC + WWE: The Future

Wrestling and MMA fans got exciting news in 2023: Endeavor Group Holdings Inc, the company that owns UFC, had purchased WWE.

This creates a lot of opportunities that could change the future of sports fighting, especially since Dana White and Vince McMahon have big personalities that will likely clash at times. (White will keep his position as president, and McMahon will enter the role of executive chairman.)

The merger could lead to novel events that pit wrestlers against MMA fighters. Will the collaborations work? The UFC tends to have highly trained fighters who go at each other hard in the ring. The WWE has a reputation as an entertainment group that relies on drama instead of actual fighting. What will the future hold? Stay tuned.

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